What I Have Learned About the Church’s Potential From CrossFit: Part One

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Introduction:

I once heard someone say, before he joined CrossFit “All CrossFitters talk about is CrossFit.” Come to think of it, that person was me. Never would I imagine how culturally profound this reality would prove to be in my own understanding of other communities, namely the church, once I became a CrossFit member.

The question that this phenomenon known as CrossFit raises is this: “What is it about CrossFit that makes its members so excited to talk about it?” We all know that CrossFit draws a lot of controversy, and yet, even in the face of the naysayers, this community urges people not to judge until they’ve tried it. Why is this the case? Because they know CrossFit works.

So, what about the church? Why are we no longer as excitable as the CrossFit community? It is as I have said; the CrossFit community proclaims the greatness of CrossFit because they believe in CrossFit. How do we as a church community learn from this phenomenon and recapture our fire?

I am going to be exploring this thought over my next few posts, but first, I must demonstrate what I see as our biggest disconnect.

Part One: A Problem the Church Faces:

 Certainly various denominations and theological traditions have complexly differing ecclesiologies. The purpose of the church can vary greatly between, for example, the minds of those in a Southern Baptist Church in rural Tennessee and those of a prominent Roman Catholic Church in Boston, Massachusetts. However, there does seem to be a well-defined movement within the church, at least within evangelical circles, which is calling for a reclaiming of the church as that body of believers that really lives to make a difference out in the lost and hurting world.

 We are becoming much more missionally minded, and you cannot speak with a church leader too long before you hear one of them say, “The church is not a building, but the body of believers.” But, that means that somewhere along the way, the church had lost something of this calling, and observant, concerned Christians are taking note. Why do we have to reclaim our missional calling? What went missing?

 We can wish for a church culture that seeks to promote the Missio Dei, the mission of God in the world, a church that really inhabits what it means to be the body of Christ. We can even have dialogue, and, at times, even come to a consensus about how the church should look. But, there often seems to be a real disconnect between what we concede should happen and what we do.

 It is easy to idealize and pontificate what an effective church might look like.  Often a pastor will stand in front of the flock and deliver a profound picture and vision for the future, and many, if not most, of the heads in the crowd will bob up and down in agreement. The bobbing heads are the honest and sincere responses of the congregants saying, “Yes, this is how we should live.” Yet, nothing changes. Why?

 If everyone agrees what should be done, and even wants to do it, why then does the church not change? Why don’t the individuals who hear the message then leave church and live it out? What is the hold up? The preacher has cast the vision. The people have captured it, yet nothing happens.

 I have come to understand a vital truth: Simple talk does very little to change a culture. Without demonstration and opportunity, words merely tell people what they should do in light of what they are doing wrong. This is only critique.

 People who want to see real change in the world must provide ‘tangible’ ways for people to become involved. A preacher cannot merely provide vision for the congregation, but must work with the church leadership to provide opportunity to apply what is being taught.

 All the nodding heads suggest agreement with the pastor, but the proof of the disconnect comes when we note little to no change from week to week. Until the church leadership who wishes to see real change actually provides sustainable and purposeful opportunity, they are merely critics of society. Jesus’ life demonstrates that we cannot tell persons to go and do, before we say, “Come and watch.”

 At this juncture, the church leader might wish to rebut. Let us just imagine that a pastor has just preached a message on the care of the poor. Obviously the pastor might look at my critique above and say, “Well, all the person has to do is drive into town to find poverty. Need is all around us.”

 Yes, this is true, but we are not calling for individuals to do individual efforts; we are calling for the community to live as the church, a community living to make a difference.  What an individual can do for the poor is far less than what a group can do. The individual will seldom wander the streets looking to give a hand out, even when he or she wants to help. Too many uncertainties arise: “Which person do I pick? How do I approach these people? What do I tell them?”

 We do not want persons acting on behalf of the self so that they can complete some sort of check list: “Well, my church suggests that I do this; therefore, I am going to give twenty dollars to the next vagrant I see.” This has little to no impact much of the time. The church must intentionally cast vision, and then train for and provide real opportunity for action. Our goal is not simply to do, but to promote the Kingdom, so we shouldn’t just give vision and hope for the best. The vision has little to no impact unless it manifests itself out in the world. This is not something we should leave to chance.

Conclusion:        

In the end, the church cannot thrive until it recaptures the model of discipleship Christ offered. Christ not only commissioned, he taught through providing real opportunity. In this first blog I simply wanted to set up the problem. I have not really unpacked how I learned about a solution from CrossFit yet, but I will in the next few posts. Suffice it for now to say this:

CrossFit is a community that has vision. It is a community that casts this vision. It is a community that sees real issues with the way a lot of people try to “get in shape.” But, CrossFit does not simply tell persons what they do wrong. They provide real, personal opportunity to learn how to do right.

-TM

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